by Sheila Gardner
An organization that provides free legal aid in rural communities is sponsoring a fair Thursday in Gardnerville for people with questions about civil legal issues from family law to immigration.
A dozen attorneys and paralegals will be at the St. Gall Pastoral Center from 3-7 p.m. to provide free legal aid through the sponsorship of Volunteer Attorneys for Rural Nevadans and the church.
"Basically, anyone who has any kind of civil legal aid question, we can try to help them," said Casey Sanders, VARN pro bono coordinator.
Participants will be asked to fill out an intake form, and VARN staff will match them with an attorney or paralegal best able to meet their legal needs.
Attorneys Jim Hales, Nancy Rey Jackson and Kathleen Kelly are among the professionals volunteering their help.
"We have about a dozen volunteers right now," Sanders said. "Some are from Carson City, but most are from Douglas County."
Odessa Ramirez, VARN assistant executive director, said bilingual staff will be on hand.
"This is the first time we've done the pro bono fair in Gardnerville," Sanders said. "It's close to our base of operations (Carson City), and there was interest in the community and legal community. Lawyers wanted to help out."
He said 100 people attended a similar event in Carson City last year. A pro bono fair was held last week in Virginia City.
Staff will be on hand to answer questions about family law, including divorce, custody, guardianship; bankruptcy, wills and estates, foreclosure, landlord/tenant matters, debt collection, government benefits, immigration and other issues.
Sanders said October is domestic violence awareness month and VARN offers assistance through family law with domestic violence survivors. The American Bar Association established an annual pro bono celebration week each October.
"Attorneys come and talk to those attending. Depending on what their needs are, they may be able to follow up with certain cases. In the past, they have taken people on as clients afterwards," Sanders said.
Sanders said the fair is helpful for people trying to take care of their own legal matters like uncontested divorces or wills.
"Attorneys or staff can help them find the right forms, or direct them to the law library. A lot of people are out there with legal questions, but it's not worth paying to sit down with an attorney. This is a way for them to see a counselor to determine if they have a legal problem," Sanders said.
Attorneys will be on hand to help people with immigration issues such as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals for young undocumented immigrants, and the Battered Immigrant Women Protection Act.
Ramirez said VARN was formed in 1996 in Carson City to serve rural Nevadans.
She said the organization has four staff attorneys and 100 volunteer lawyers of whom about half are active.
"We don't charge any fees to clients, and our attorneys work voluntarily," she said.
Sanders said he wanted to thank the attorneys and St. Gall for donating the space for the fair.
"The attorneys who always come out and help us with the legal fair or taking cases for us, they're really the backbone of our program. I can't say enough about them," he said. "We are grateful to St. Gall, as well, for donating use of the space."
Volunteer Attorneys for Rural Nevadans free legal aid faIr, 3-7 p.m., Thursday, St. Gall Pastoral Center, 1343 Centerville Lane, Gardnerville. Free assistance is available in English and Spanish for civil legal matters including family law, bankruptcy, foreclosure, government benefits, immigration and debt collection. Information, VARN, 883-8278.